writing & publishing


Jack Kerouac’s List of 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

(Via Brain Pickings.)


Negative Thinking

I’ve been feeling a little down about things of late. The writing, that is – everything else is okay. It’s genuinely difficult to be a writer in the age of social media. There’s so much buzzing around, but it’s places like Goodreads and Amazon that make things particularly tough when you’re trying to simply think quietly about your next book.

I used to hope I would one day start to cope with bad reviews. I think I have in terms of blog or magazine reviews, but it’s places such as Goodreads and Amazon that really can generate a negative state of mind for a writer. Those one-star clicks, which people make so dismissively, stay visible. They’ll be there as long as the Internet is around. Blog reviews tumble down the google rankings, and magazines end up being recycled. But those review sites linger.

When I first wrote Nights of Villjamur, I wanted to write something vaguely experimental, a mix of aesthetics, a gay lead character, prose which had contrasts, made modern day references and so on. When I was 26, or however old I was when writing it, I used to think that was a pretty rebellious thing to believe. But then you see people have a bad reaction to it – even if it’s just reading 10 pages and giving it a one-star review without any thought to the act. And you know what? That hurts. It sucks. And my reaction to it has barely improved over the years. I think I was bitten by the hype, too, so whenever people read the book now they’re always ‘disappointed’. Do I regret those youthful urges? I probably do actually, judging by people’s varied reaction to it.

I can’t say what that has done to my writing recently. Perhaps it’s made me not want to be so experimental. In the age of commercial fiction, telling a good story really is the most important thing. Telling an easily accessible one is even better. It’s hard to ignore that fact.

I’m not saying these review sites are bad at all, just that it’s remarkably difficult to maintain a creative vision when you start reading such comments, and you read them because you care about your creativity. You start to compare yourself to other authors, which as Sam Sykes points out, is not a good door to open. And that can really get in the way of doing your job.

I didn’t really mean to just write a simple moan. I’ve tried to make sure the blog stays away from such territory, but I feel better for putting this out there. Hopefully a few other writers might share these sentiments.

Normal service will resume.


Book Links

A bunch of vaguely interesting book-ish links that have caught my eye of late. First up, an Italian NGO is calling for Dante’s ‘racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic’ epic poem, the Divine Comedy, to be removed from classrooms:

the Italian human rights organisation Gherush92, which advises UN bodies on human rights issues, wants it to be removed from school curriculums, or at least used with more caution, because it is “offensive and discriminatory” and young people lack the “filters” to understand it in context.

Always an interesting debate, this kind of thing, but I wonder what role teachers ought to play in establishing context. Surely if a book is on the curriculum, then context can and should be addressed. Should the so-called missing filters be introduced at this point? I’d rather kids were made aware of the failings of the past than have these books airbrushed from debate altogether. On a related point, if I was a publisher, I’d try an experimental marketing campaign trying to get a book banned or burned. Just watch the sales skyrocket…

That long-fated end of the book industry seems to be taking a halt as a new book chain dips its toes in UK waters:

The first Watermark bookshop in Europe has opened in the new London King’s Cross concourse with 7,000 books available for sale across the 1,100 sq ft shop.
Former Waterstones Islington manager Farah Taylor has taken charge of the shop as its manager and buyer and has employed 10 staff, who are all “from the book trade and passionate about books”.

Faber has a reasonably kooky but possibly cynical attempt at getting emotional/social buy-in to one of their books called Capital.

How will your life change in the next ten years? Will you be better or worse off? Sign up to Pepys Road and over ten days we’ll tell you how the world will change and what this will mean for you. We’ll also give you the prologue to Capital for free.

I remember the days where you got prologues for free without jumping through hoops! Finally, the Telegraph questions the teenage craze for dystopian fiction, and offers this ridiculous opening:

Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food.

Parents being worried about their kids reading that? Never mind the generations that grew up reading Stephen King. How terribly nasty. Or rather, how middle-class. How very Daily Telegraph.

Ironically, it’s denialist publications like the Telegraph that would contribute to such a future.


On Private Writing

I’ve recently discovered Day One, a journal app for iPhone, iPad and MacBook. And because of Day One, I’ve also rediscovered the joys of private writing.

One of the things that I lost over the years, as a novelist, was the pleasure of unpublished writing. Now, of course, the joys of being published far outweigh that – I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. Having an audience of people who actually want to look at the things you put down on paper, that’s amazing.

But there’s a lot to be said about writing solely for myself.

I downloaded the app as an experiment in nature writing. One of the books I enjoyed so much last year was Roger Deakin’s Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, which was a posthumous collection of observations and reflections ironically not intended for publication. As a result, they were very raw and honest, which came together as an utterly fascinating piece of literature. Inspired by that, I’ve started making my own broad sketches, thoughts of the natural world and so on. Sure, I used to have a writer’s notebook, but these days I ended up just firing emails to myself as reminders of thoughts – hardly ideal. And if I’m honest, even then I was conscious and hopeful that my writing might one day see publication in one form or another, that what I was writing would find an audience. Not so with using the Day One app.

Perhaps I grew out of reflection to some extent – or at least reflecting in quite the same way as I used to. Publishing deadlines probably do that to a writer. But the Day One app seems to fit so nicely into a busy life – I can make notes on the go, sync it in the cloud with my other devices, so I can pick it up and continue that line of thought at home. It inspires inward thought, and I don’t have to arse about with pen and paper while I’m at it.

And the important thing for any of these pieces of writing is that they are not for publication. Unlike a writer’s notebook, I never intend for any of these sketches to be seen by anyone other than me. Unlike a blog or Twitter, they’re not out there in the hope someone stumbles across them. It’s very liberating. It’s something of a relief, in fact, to be writing without the angst or the worry. It even seems a brief countercultural statement in an age where everyone likes to punt out a piece of writing online. Sure, this is all self-indulgent nonsense, but isn’t that what private writing is about?